Labour force participation and absenteeism are issues of primary interest in Australia, particularly with ageing of the population and increasing prevalence of chronic disease. This report provides a conservative estimate of the annual cost to the Australian economy in terms of decreased participation in full-time and part-time employment, and lost participation due to absenteeism for persons who reported having a chronic disease, and loss to the labour force due to death from chronic disease.

Key findings

  • After adjusting for age and sex, people with chronic disease were 60% more likely to not participate in the labour force, were less likely to be employed full-time, and more likely to be unemployed, than those without chronic disease.
  • Males with chronic disease were more than twice as likely to not participate in the labour force compared to males without chronic disease.
  • People with chronic disease had, on average, 0.48 days off work in the previous fortnight due to their own illness, compared with 0.25 days for those without chronic
  • The annual loss in workforce participation from chronic disease in Australia was around 537,000 person-years of participation in full-time employment, and approximately 47,000 person years of part-time employment.
  • Of the total loss in full-time employment, 40% was associated with arthritis, approximately 25% with depression, and around 10% each with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • The overall loss to the workforce associated with the chronic diseases assessed here, amounts to around half a million person-years.

Other findings

  • Of approximately 10.5 million Australians aged 25-64 years, about 33% reported at least one of the following chronic diseases in 2004-05: arthritis, asthma, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, diabetes, osteoporosis or cerebrovascular disease (stroke). The most commonly reported chronic diseases were arthritis, asthma and depression.
  • Older people were more likely to have chronic disease than younger people (54% of 55-64 year olds compared with 21% of 25-34 year olds).
  • Arthritis, asthma and depression were associated with 76% of the total loss due to days away from work (29% associated with depression, 24% with arthritis and 23% with asthma).
  • For people participating full-time in the labour force, there was a loss of approximately 367,000 person-years associated with chronic disease, approximately 57,000 person-years in absenteeism associated with chronic disease and 113,000 person-years were lost due to death from chronic disease.
  • For part-time participation, the losses were 14,000 person-years associated with chronic disease and 33,000 person-years due to death from chronic disease.
  • Loss to the full-time labour force due to death ascribed 52% to cancers, 19% to coronary heart disease and 17% to depression.
  • For loss in part-time employment, 42% was associated with arthritis and 23% with depression. For loss due to death, 64% was from cancer and about 12% each from depression and coronary heart disease.

Estimates of loss do not take into account lower performance while at work, nor do they incorporate the impact of morbidity due to cancer and renal disease. Furthermore, these estimates relate to people aged 25-64 years (excluding students who are not in the labour force). Similarly, the effect of loss from participation in the unpaid labour force (carers, parents and volunteers) has not been accounted for. The estimates, therefore, underestimate the loss in workforce participation associated with chronic disease.